First of all, I’ll admit that I didn’t vote for John McCain in the 2008 general election.
That aside, I have always admired the man, although I think he made a huge mistake in choosing a running mate in that election, won by Barack Obama. McCain, himself, admitted as much later and I think his choice of Sarah Palin was a fatal decision.
Those of us who have witnessed how military veterans who served during the time of the Vietnam conflict had few true heroes we could point to, whom we could admire. Perhaps one of those true heroes was John McCain.
Only recently has a majority of Americans saw fit to celebrate military service of all Americans. John McCain was always in our corner and he wasn’t ashamed to let everyone know.
Most people of my generation remember those times of the turbulent 1960s, which carried over to the ‘70s and even into the ‘80s.
We were all young men, many of us just beginning our life’s journey when the conflict in Southeast Asia came booming down around us. Like many American young men of that time, I feared being sent to a war in that far-away nation. Before the U.S. entered the war, I’d suspect most Americans had never even heard of Vietnam.
That quickly changed, however, as the jungles, the oppressive heat and the deaths of so many young men our same age came crashing through our television screens almost nightly.
And, we became a nation divided.
Most young men of my age feared being sent off to fight the enemy in those far-away jungles. There were few exemptions – college was one, marital status another, and, of course, physical problems were another.
As for myself, I felt mentally conflicted. Naturally, I didn’t want to be sent to a war so far away from home, and for reasons that I didn’t feel were compelling for our involvement.
Still, I was out of college. I was not married. So, I expected to be called into service and I was.
There were many just like me; young men away from home, preparing for what we all knew was an uncertain future. With a certain dread hanging over our heads at all times, we nonetheless performed our military duties as we were ordered. Many acquaintances I made through basic and advanced training came down on those dreaded levies and headed to that war halfway around the world.
Each time a new levee was posted, we gave a sigh of relief when our name wasn’t on the list.
For sure, it was a hard time in all our lives. Not only did we serve in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines, those weekly levees gave us all pause; we held our breath each time we read the lists.
All the time, of course, the anti-war protests raged across America. Those protests, mostly by Americans our own age, were given as much television time, as many inches in daily newspapers, as were the stories of those of us in the military. Quite naturally, many of us became bitter about the whole situation – we took a dislike to young people whom we didn’t even know; we felt they were simply cowards and many of us feel the same way today.
Thank God for men like John McCain.
He became a symbol for my generation. He endured years in a Vietnamese prison camp and came home a hero to a generation. We learned his story, about how he’d followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps to become a Navy pilot, of how he’d been shot down over Vietnam and captured, of how he refused to be released before other prisoners and how he came home alive.
John McCain, on his last trip to Congress a month ago, stood before his colleagues and berated them all for their inability to work in a non-partisan basis. McCain, of anyone in the Senate, knew that in order to get things done, the best way is to work together. Somewhere along the line, and McCain knew it better than most, that bi-partisanship has disappeared.
More than that, at least on a personal level, McCain made many soldiers from the Vietnam era feel proud, once again, to have served their country. It’s easy, now, to forget that many of my generation evaded military service for one reason or another. I no longer look around the room in large gatherings and wonder to myself if there are any draft dodgers present; I no longer have the urge to find out and to berate them publicly for their cowardice.
It took me a long time to forgive then-President Jimmy Carter for issuing a blanket pardon to all those draft dodgers and issuing them a welcome home. Why should they be welcomed home, when most of us who did serve never got a welcome home, a hand shake or a pat on the back?
John McCain, and the few men like him, did a lot to ease the minds of those veterans with the same issues. A few years ago, I sat at a slot machine in Prairie Meadows on Veterans Day. A young man walked through the casino and paused at every machine. “Are you a veteran?” he asked me. “Yes,” I said. “Thank you for your service,” he said, extending his hand to me. Finally, I felt accepted.
More than any one in America, I believe, it was John McCain who changed Americans’ attitudes about those who served.
While I laud McCain for being such a great role model for all military veterans, especially those of my generation, it’s also important to remember former Iowa Representative Leonard Boswell. Boswell, too, served America gallantly during the Vietnam conflict. He flew many missions over that country and became an Iowa legislator. Two men, playing different roles in our country’s defense, both gone within a week of each other.
Thank you, U.S. Senator McCain and Iowa Representative Leonard Boswell.
Thank you not only for your heroic service to this great nation, but thank you, too, for erasing the stigma that military service gave so many of us for far too long.